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Fifty Year Friday: May 1972

1972 was the year I started taking piano lessons in order to be able to write down all the original tunes that had started popping into my head around 1970. I never developed an ear good enough to play either my tunes or other people’s melodies impromptu, but it did give me enough foundation so I could pick out melodies after some work. It also gave me a greater appreciation of the great spectrum of music, current and past, available to people like me living in an industrialized, freedom-tolerant country with access to the variety of record stores, concerts and radio stations present in 1972 Southern California.

Uriah Heep: Demons and Wizards; Elton John: Honky Chateau

Two of the many albums released in May 1972, which I purchased shortly after their release included Uriah Heep’s Demons and Wizards and Elton John’s Honky Chateau. I recorded both on a portable battery-powered tape recorder to have music for the immediately upcoming summer vacation trips, but never much took a liking to Honky Chateau (resulting in me not purchasing Elton’s next album.) Demon and Wizards was better musically, and though not as notably baroque in feel as their previous album, there was still some impressive keyboard work and invigorating instrumental passages.

Rolling Stones: Exile On Main Street

Since I could now drive, I started going to school dances, and was exposed to some of the classic dance numbers on the Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street, which was recorded in sessions from 1970, 1971 and 1972 and released on May 12, 1972. I never considered myself much of a Stones fan, but I loved dancing to “Tumbling Dice”, and particularly “Happy”, when some local band would play them (along with Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water”) at either our own high school gymnasium or at the college across the street or our local junior college. Exile is doted on by rock critics, and though it is a pretty good album, maybe the Stone’s best album next to “Between the Buttons”, and though we have Nicky Hopkins and Billy Preston on keyboards and the creative magic of Mick Taylor and Keith Richards, this is an album more suited for secondary listening, such as driving or party music, as opposed to serious, concentrated listening as appropriate to the very best Yes, Jethro Tull, Genesis or Gentle Giant albums.

Caravan: Water Lily; Wishbone Ash: Argus

In terms of rock albums that do compel serious, concentrated listening, two releases from May 1972 fall into this category: Wishbone’s Ash’s Argus, which peaked near the end of May at number 3 in the UK top ten albums, and Caravan’s Waterloo Lily.

Ornette Coleman: Science Fiction, Skies Of America

My first exposure to Ornette Coleman was from the Columbia Records 2 LP “The Progressives” album, made available around 1973 as one of several give-a-way selections (something like 5 or 10 records for $1) to join the Columbia House Columbia Records Club. This was also my first exposure to Weather Report, Soft Machine, Charles Mingus, Don Ellis, Keith Jarrett, Bill Evans (with George Russell), Matching Mole, and Gentle Giant. Gentle Giant garnered the plurality of my attention, mandating me to immediately purchase their 1972 Octopus album, but the Ornette Coleman track was a bit beyond my reach and my reality. However, around 1976, when Columbia Records issued a 2 for 1 (two for the price of one) LP of Coleman’s Science Fiction album and Skies of America album and at a price of $3.99, I considered that enticing price enough incentive to start my jazz record library, and I got my first in-depth experience with free-jazz, though I was well-prepared with the amount of twentieth century classical music I had been exposed to as a music major in college. After navigating through Xenakis, Stockhausen and Boulez, music by Ornette Coleman was now more accessible.

Science Fiction was recorded in 1971 and released in 1972 and is my favorite of the two albums. It is bold, unbridled and inventive. The album starts off with the ethereal and relatively tranquil “What Reason Could I give”, with Asha Puthil’s vocals essential in establishing the freshness and almost futuristic characteristics of this first track, and nicely setting up the overall listening experience for the entire album. “Civilization Day” provides a metallic, edgy contrast to the opening with an amazing pocket trumpet solo from Don Cherry. The third track of the album provides a softer and more open sound prior to the more aggressive fourth and fifth tracks, with the sixth track, “All My Life”, a beautiful love song with a remarkable sinuous melody and vocals handled handsomely by Puthil. The seventh track, “Law Years”, includes a compelling solo from Charlie Haden on bass, and the last track, “The Jungle is a Skyscraper” includes a terrific drum solo from Ed Blackwell immediately followed by Coleman on alto over effective support from Blackwell and Haydn, followed by Cherry, then Cherry and Coleman together with the return of the opening theme dramatically ending the album.

Skies of America, recorded in April of 1972, and released in May of 1972, fell short of what it could have been. Coleman’s writing for orchestra provides an effective foundation for an added jazz combo to improvise in appropriate places on top of the basic composition, however contractual constraints with the UK’s musician’s union resulted in Coleman having to do replace his intended “concertino” with a single soloist, himself. In addition, not the entire work was included on the album due to the time limitations of a single LP, possibly compromising the both the fullness and unity of the work — I say possibly, as I don’t believe there is any release with the entire work — I am not even sure the entire composition was recorded by the LSO during the April 1972 sessions.

That said, the album is still quite good, even with the LSO’s playing likely to have benefitted from additional rehearsal time. Coleman is in top form, and as expected, fully able to appropriately execute the underlying intention and vision of his work. The last track, “Sunday in America”, is as American as music by Aaron Copland, starting out reflective and embracing individuality, disparity, and unfettered freedom to dramatically end the movement and effectively close out the forty-minute work.

Weather Report: Live in Tokyo, I Sing the Body Electric

Perhaps a bit more accessible and commercially serviceable to Columbia Records was Weather Report’s part-studio-based, part live album, I Sing the Body Electric, released on May 26, 1972 in states. The live material is a subset of the “Live in Tokyo” 2 LP album released on May 1, 1972 in Japan, and shortly thereafter available as an import in the US, and then much later, like the second decade of the 21st century, available as a two CD set.

Randy Newman: Sail Away

On May 23, 1972, Randy Newman and Reprise records released Sail Away, Newman’s strongest album up to that time, including some of Newman’s songs that had been previously recorded by other artists and some newer material — or at least new to the public. Though not a commercial blockbuster, the album did make it into the Billboard 200, peaking at position 163. Sometime in late 1972 or 1973, I remember Newman appearing on TV and then in 1973, when, as a senior in high school, I took a Music History 100 class from cellist Terry King at the college across the street from my high school. Mr. King shared that he had played cello on this album (as well as cello on Carole King’s Tapestry) and he played a cut from the Sail Away album. Later in 1973, I saw Newman live, just him and piano, at the junior college, performing many of the songs on this album for an interested but relatively small audience. Though, I love the orchestration on this album, nothing quite brings out the sardonic wit and implied cynicism and irony of these songs as Newman tackling them live in the intimate setting of a small auditorium, in his individually, almost conspicuously, relaxed, offhand manner.

Fifty Year Friday: April 1970

GENTLE GIANT: THREE FRIENDS

Released on April 14, 1972, Three Friends is Gentle Giant’s third album and their first self produced album, and takes a musical direction quite different from the previous two, with the music coalesced around the thematic concept of three schoolmates and the different directions they take. Whereas the music of the previous album generally flows and evades concrete musical borders, owing much to medieval and renaissance musical sensibilities, the music of Three Friends is distinctly of the twentieth century with repeated musical cells and patterns, occurrences of syncopation, and both subtle and more strongly emphasized meter changes — all taken together, form the initial characteristics of an identifiable Gentle Giant style that would become more prevalent in their fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth albums.

The first track, the prologue, starts off in 3/4, appropriate for the concept of “three friends”, then shifts into 4/4 in preparation for the lyrics and then ends in mostly 3/4 with a few apparent meter changes for the ending. The high register synthesizer, like the wispiness of memory, adds to the overall effect of detailed stereo separation. The interlaced vocals continues with the next track, “School Days”, which brings to mind that back and forth playfulness of school children, with some more shuffling of the time signature and then a brief dark middle interlude that shifts into 4/4 for the “remember” section which includes Ray Shulman’s son providing age-appropriate vocals against uncle Phil Shulmans grown-up vocals. After a jazzy vibraphone solo from Kerry Minnear, there are some more meter changes and the the reflection on past school days quietly ends.

Each of the next three tracks focuses on one of the three friends. “Working All Day” is the stoic pronouncement of the manual laborer, voiced appropriately by Derek Shulman, who matter of factly accepts his fate with “no regrets” in mostly straight 4/4 common time. Notable is the introduction, a free multi-voiced, contrapuntal, synthesizer part, that, through the magic of magnetic type, slowly (and seamlessly) grinds down to the plodding working class tempo of the opening theme. Near the end of the piece, in the recap of that initial “working all day” theme, we get a few bars of what I call the Gentle Giant “stride” style (see Fifty Year Friday: July 1971), a “keep on trucking” era type of passage, that appears about twenty-seconds before the end of the song.  

“Peel the Paint” showcases, lyrically, Phil Shulman, light and airy with “free from the start”, then Derek with an anguished “peel the paint”, “nothing’s been learned”, and musically, the two sides of the artist — the aesthetic highs and the tortured lows — with the “peel the paint”, “same old savage beast”, and “nothing’s been learned, no, nothing at all” section relying heavily on the use of the “devil of music” (“diabolus in musica”), the tritone, and a guitar solo that starts out tormented and appears to flop into a drunken-like stupor with the piece ending with a recap of “nothing’s been learned.”

The third track covers the final friend, the lad that made the “big time”, reflecting on the material advantages of success, in a mostly 12/8 meter with some shorter bars for typical Gentle Giant variety. The album ends with “Three Friends” redeploying material from the prologue, including use of both 3/4 and 4/4 meters. The album, though maybe not delivering the most profound concept or realization of that concept, succeeds musically, and with its ample occurrence of 4/4, 2/4 and 12/8 rhythms, makes wonderful driving music. I would also suggest listening to it with visual cues — perhaps something like “light speakers” — devices that bundle different colors of strings of Christmas lights with each color associated to a band of audio frequencies and placed behind a semi-transparent plastic to create dazzling color effects coordinated with the music.’

Overcast: The Approaching Storm

Recorded in a series of contentious sessions in January 1972, made even more difficult by equipment issues and studio logistic headaches (with the band unpleasantly mired in the resulting red tape spawned by recent ownership changes at the La Brea recording studios), Overcast’s fifth album, The Approaching Storm, saw the light of day on the first of April, 1972.

Shifting tentatively from the basic blues and blues-rock formula that had provided their only hit, “Better Yet”, the band, led by the urging of classically trained keyboardist Trevor Stuart (see Fifty Year Friday: Overcast, With a Chance of Showers) explored more complex musical avenues, incorporating a range of influences from the The Who’s recent 1971 album, Who’s Next to the Yes’s Fragile album — though clearly, David Amato was no Keith Moon or Bill Bruford, and Douglas Brandt was no John Entwistle or Chris Squire.

The first side starts with the title track, with heavy bass and darkly-tinged doom-laced lyrics contrasted with pleas for optimism (“No room for grooming this looming, mushrooming doom and gloom”), followed by “Cognitive Unconsciousness” with its bagpipe-like synthesizer passage, and then “Decidedly Dangerous”, which merges into “Disaster Part One: Recognized, Resisted, Realized”, which effectively ends the first side.

Side Two opens with “Disaster Part Two: Reality” with stabbing marimba-like effects from the synthesizer and concludes with the dramatic and stormy, fifteen-minute, “Crystal Palace Workshop”, which leans heavily on Stuarts multi-track use of moog synthesizer and Bill Fortney’s heavily arpeggiated and intermittently apocalyptic electric guitar.

David Crosby & Graham Nash: David Crosby & Graham Nash; Stephen Stills: Manassas; Jim Croce: You Don’t Mess Around with Jim; Procol Harum: In Concert with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra

Additional albums released in April of 1972 include the first Crosby/Graham album, with an exquisite balance between the well-crafted Nash compositions and the mellower Crosby tunes crowned by Nash’s timeless gem “Immigration Man”. the Stephen Stills two LP Manassas with its individually themed LP sides, Jim Croce’s breakout commercial album, You Don’t Mess Around with Jim, with its quality arrangements, well-recorded acoustic guitar and the elegantly-wrought classic, “Time in a Bottle”, and Procol Harum’s best selling album recorded live with full orchestra.

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